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Manchester United vs Arsenal – Remembering the teams from the “Battle of the Buffet”

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Manchester United against Arsenal is a rivalry etched into the fabric of the Premier League era. The titanic tussles between the teams are some of the defining imagery of the division, with a catalogue of unforgettable moments.

From Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira butting heads to Sir Alex Ferguson and Arsene Wenger’s public spats, clashes between the sides were box-office viewing.

One of the most memorable clashes came in October 2004, as Manchester United brought an end to Arsenal’s record-breaking run of 49 league games without defeat. Invincibles the previous season, the Gunners tasted defeat in the Premier League for the first time since May 2003, with a 2-0 loss at Old Trafford.

The game was dubbed the “Battle of the Buffet”, or “Pizza-Gate”, after a post-game fracas that saw food flung at Ferguson, as tempers erupted in the tunnel at the full-time whistle.

49 – Arsenal’s English top-flight record of 49 games unbeaten finally came to an end in a 0-2 defeat at Old Trafford in October 2004. Fallen. #OptaPLSeasons pic.twitter.com/QoClS4CD5e

— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) April 8, 2020

Ahead of their latest showdown, we’ve remembered the teams from the “Battle of the Buffet”.

Manchester United

Goalkeeper: Roy Carroll

One of several shot-stoppers to take the gloves with mixed success during the post-Peter Schmeichel era, Roy Carroll made 72 appearances for the Red Devils after arriving from Wigan Athletic in 2001. Initially a backup option, he featured regularly during the 2004/05 campaign but departed following the arrival of Edwin van der Sar from Fulham.

Right-back: Gary Neville

Part of the club’s fabled Class of ’92, Gary Neville emerged from the Manchester United academy system and spent almost two decades as a first-team fixture. The right-back made 602 appearances for the Red Devils and, as ever, was up for the fight against Arsenal.

Neville was booked for a first-half foul as the home side targeted Jose Antonio Reyes with several crude challenges.

Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand

Manchester United broke the British transfer record by signing Rio Ferdinand from Leeds in 2002 and was rewarded with 12 years of elite service. Ferdinand won six league titles and the Champions League among his honours with the club, cementing himself as one of the Premier League’s best-ever defenders.

Against Arsenal, he was almost immaculate to shut out the champions and held Sir Alex Ferguson’s side to three points.

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Iconic Duos: The Tank and The Rolls Royce, Vidic and Ferdinand

Centre-back: Mikael Silvestre

The French defender is best known for nine years at Manchester United, having arrived from Inter Milan shortly after the club’s treble success in 1999. Comfortable at centre-back or left-back, he is one of the few players to have represented both clubs in the Premier League era after a two-season spell at Arsenal upon leaving Old Trafford.

Left-back: Gabriel Heinze

Gabriel Heinze became a fan favourite during the 2004/05 campaign for Manchester United and was recognised with the Sir Matt Busby Player of the Year award in his debut campaign.

Injuries impacted the Argentine in the following two seasons and he angered the Red Devils’ fanbase after pushing for a move to rivals Liverpool. He later departed to sign for Real Madrid in 2007.

Midfield: Phil Neville

Phil Neville started in midfield in the absence of Roy Keane and like his brother Gary was booked for a rash challenge on Reyes. Neville made 386 appearances after graduating from the club’s academy but departed for Everton in 2005 in search of a more prominent role. He was named captain at Goodison Park and spent eight seasons with the Toffees.

Midfield: Paul Scholes

Another one-club great, Scholes spent his entire career with Manchester United and became the most decorated English footballer of all time. He won 11 league titles, two Champions Leagues, and five domestic cups among his silverware collection.

A free-scoring midfielder in his youth, before evolving into a deep-lying conductor, Scholes was a world-class technician and one of the Premier League’s very best.

Right-wing: Cristiano Ronaldo

The Battle of the Buffet saw the early version of Cristiano Ronaldo, an exhibition of tricks but with a tendency to overplay or make wrong decisions. Over the following seasons, he evolved into arguably the game’s greatest talent and won the Ballon d’Or after a 42-goal season for Manchester United in 2008.

Upon leaving the club in a world-record deal he reached record-breaking levels of greatness. Four further Ballon d’Or wins and the record goalscorer in the history of Real Madrid, the Champions League, and international football suggests as much.

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He was substituted on 85 minutes and replaced by Alan Smith.

Left-wing: Ryan Giggs

Manchester United’s record appearance maker, Ryan Giggs represented the Red Devils on a mammoth 963 occasions.

The Welsh winger broke into the team as a teenager and remained a key part of the side for more than two decades, winning an astonishing 13 Premier League titles in the process.

Forward: Wayne Rooney

Wayne Rooney signed for Manchester United from Everton after impressing for England at Euro 2004 and the teenager marked his debut with a Champions League hat-trick against Fenerbahce.

Less than a month later, he marked his 19th birthday with a decisive performance in The Battle of the Buffet, winning the penalty for the opening goal before scoring the second – his first league goal for the club.

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Forward: Ruud van Nistelrooy

Ruud van Nistelrooy exorcised the demons of his penalty miss against Arsenal the previous season, one ‘celebrated’ wildly by a boisterous Martin Keown, after slamming home from the spot to open the scoring.

The Dutchman was a potent presence during his five seasons at Manchester United, where he scored 150 goals in 219 games. He was substituted in stoppage time for Louis Saha.


Goalkeeper: Jens Lehmann

The defeat at Manchester United was incredibly the first of Jens Lehmann’s Premier League career after the goalkeeper had signed for Arsenal in the summer before their 2003/04 Invincible campaign.

Lehmann made 200 appearances for Arsenal across two spells.

Right-back: Lauren

The Cameroonian full-back was an underrated part of Arsenal’s successful sides of the noughties, winning league titles with the Gunners in 2002 and 2004. He spent seven seasons in North London before signing for Portsmouth, where he won the FA Cup in 2008 alongside ex-Arsenal teammates Kanu and Sol Campbell.

Centre-back: Sol Campbell

Arsenal shook the Premier League with the free transfer signing of Sol Campbell from arch-rivals Tottenham in 2001.

Campbell was a mountainous presence for the Gunners in two title-winning teams, with the England international one of the division’s best defenders at his best. He was harshly penalised for the penalty that saw Ruud van Nistelrooy open the scoring.

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Defensive Rocks: Sol Campbell – The immovable Invincible

Centre-back: Kolo Toure

A brilliant bargain for Arsenal, Kolo Toure joined the club from ASEC Mimosas for a fee of just £150,000 after a short trial. The Ivorian filled the voids left by the departures of Tony Adams and Martin Keown as the Gunners won the Premier League unbeaten in 2003/04.

He later had spells at Manchester City, Liverpool and Celtic.

Left-back: Ashley Cole

The Arsenal academy graduate rose through the ranks in North London to become the Premier League’s best left-back. As he had at Euro 2004 in the summer, Cole came out on top in his duel with Cristiano Ronaldo at Old Trafford.

The defender later soured relations with Arsenal, after crossing the capital to sign for London rivals Chelsea in 2006.

Midfield: Patrick Vieira

Patrick Vieira was missing his old sparring partner Roy Keane for this clash but was still in the thick of the action for the Gunners. He picked up a customary booking in a typically combative performance in midfield.

The 2004/05 season was the last of his time with Arsenal, with Vieira’s last kick for the club coming with the decisive penalty in the FA Cup final win over Manchester United.

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Midfield Generals: Patrick Vieira – A Gunners great

Midfield: Edu

Edu was a solid squad member for four seasons at Arsenal and produced an impressive performance in defeat at Manchester United.

The Brazilian left Arsenal to sign for Valencia at the end of the campaign, though has since returned to North London. He is currently the club’s sporting director, working closely with manager Mikel Arteta.

Right-wing: Freddie Ljungberg

A fan favourite during nine seasons with Arsenal, the Swedish winger was a regular goalscorer from midfield with late runs into the box.

His finest season came in 2001/02, as Ljungberg was named Premier League Player of the Season as Arsenal won a Premier League and FA Cup double. He ended that campaign with 17 goals in all competitions.

Left-wing: Jose Antonio Reyes

Reyes signed for Arsenal from Sevilla in February 2004 and made an immediate impact at the start of his first full season. He scored six times in six games and was the target of some robust challenges from Manchester United in a fiery clash at Old Trafford. After a bruising afternoon, he was replaced by Robert Pires on 70 minutes.

The Spaniard later had successful spells at Real Madrid, Sevilla and Atletico Madrid. Reyes passed away at the age of 35 following a car accident.

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Forward: Dennis Bergkamp

An all-time great for Arsenal, Dennis Bergkamp was reaching the latter stages of his illustrious career in 2004/05.

The Dutchman had earlier starred in three title-winning teams for Arsenal and was named PFA Player of the Year as the Gunners won a domestic double in 1997/98. His exquisite first touch has been celebrated permanently, with a statue outside the Emirates.

Golazo Merchants: Arsenal’s non-flying Dutchman, Dennis Bergkamp

Forward: Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry is recognised as arguably the Premier League’s greatest-ever talent and the number one player to have adorned Arsenal colours.

The 2004/05 season saw Henry win the third of his record-breaking four Premier League Golden Boots, though he saw a good chance well-saved by Roy Carroll at Old Trafford.

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Read – Eight moments that defined Arsenal and Man United’s classic rivalry

See more – Noughties Nines: Wayne Rooney – An inimitable emergence

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